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Thursday, 12 July 2012 16:59

Australia: The Land Down Under Comes Out on Top

Written by  Dyana Carmella
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pre_australiaopeningshotAustralia is quickly gaining momentum in the film and television industry as it attracts a hefty amount of local and international projects. Key cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are fueling productions with varied resources, high-caliber crews, world-class infrastructure, pristine locations and an impressive talent pool that includes some of the industry’s best filmmakers. And, with their signature calm energy and positivity, Aussie crews can handle everything from big-budget international features and local TV series to smaller-budget indie projects (for which they offer affordable solutions). Here’s look at how three major Australian states readily accommodate productions both large and small.

NEW SOUTH WALES

New South Wales doesn’t mess around when it comes to production. The state is easily becoming one of the top destinations in the world to shoot, and the beautiful capital city of Sydney is so diverse that it can easily resemble anywhere else on the planet. New South Wales is known for hosting large-scale features, including Australia, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Superman Returns, and high-profile films that will soon steal the international spotlight, like The Great Gatsby (directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio) and The Wolverine (directed by James Mangold and starring Hugh Jackman).

Veteran Location Manager Peter Harris has been location scouting for 13 years and is currently working on the hit TV drama “Home and Away.” “Australia’s got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world,” says Harris. “I’ve traveled around quite a bit and Australia is right up there, especially Sydney. It’s physically one of the most beautiful places on earth. We have great crews [in Australia and] we have a great work ethic. I think you see [that] often in some of our stars that go into the American system and [it’s] why so many features and American productions come here.”

pre_australia_newsouthwalesimg_0112Sydney is prized by filmmakers for its chameleon-like ability to transform, with a range that includes mimicking New York in the 1920s and contemporary Tokyo. It also offers sandstone colonial buildings, modern architecture and a stunning one-of-a-kind harbor. At the heart of Sydney is the Harbour Bridge with its spectacular views of the city and Sydney Opera House. The bridge also offers daily climbs where the wild at heart can ascend 430 feet to witness the magic of Sydney from above — and this summit is perfect for aerial and establishing shots of the city skyline. Not far from Sydney, Bondi Beach offers a relaxed lifestyle and the majestic landscapes of the famous Blue Mountains, while Broken Hill is known for its never-ending red-earth desert and Byron Bay (further north) boasts a lush-green rainforest and charming beach communities.

The state government in New South Wales provides incentives to approved productions through its Film & Television Industry Attraction Fund. The incentives are in the form of rebates that are determined on a case-by-case basis and depend on the percentage of production funds spent in the state. Paul de Carvalho, director of production attraction and incentives at Screen NSW, knows the importance in catering to a production’s needs. “We negotiate [because] we are very film friendly,” says de Carvalho. “The government recognizes the importance of the film industry to the economy. We are flexible but competitive.”

Productions shooting in New South Wales will not only get a first-class international crew but also unparalleled support from the government and film commission. “We have this film-friendly policy through our government which aims at reducing red tape, cutting location fees and making filming in New South Wales as easy as possible,” reports de Carvalho. “That’s what we do as Screen New South Wales. We drive the film-friendly attitude in the state.”

pre_australia_newsouthwalesimg_9257Sydney is home to Fox Studios Australia, a major studio facility for hire where any production can get exactly what it needs all in one place. The Studios are equipped with eight soundstages (with a total of 155,000 square feet), state-of-the-art postproduction facilities, scoring stage, screening rooms and 133,000 square feet of workshops, construction space and art departments. The lot also houses Fox Lighting, a lighting equipment rental facility that supplies the highest-quality lighting and top-of-the-line technical equipment. And Broken Hill Film Studio (built on a former Central Power Station site in the far western outback) is currently home for the production of Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller and starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.

New South Wales has established itself as a leader in the postproduction world for outstanding animation and digital visual-effects work. It is the home of Animal Logic, a top design, visual effects and animation company with a Sydney studio known for outstanding work on Hollywood features, like Sucker Punch, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Happy Feet, Knowing, 28 Weeks Later, 300 and The Matrix. The artist-owned fuelVFX offers full-service visual effects, CG animation, motion design and postproduction services on blockbuster films, including Prometheus, The Avengers, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Iron Man 2. And Deluxe’s state-of-the-art facilities in Sydney offer a complete range of services for film and digital postproduction, including EFILM Australia and sound mixing at StageOne Sound. Deluxe also houses Method Studios, which provide a wide array of visual-effects services, including conceptual design, look development, on-set supervision, 3D animation/CGI and full stereoscopic workflow.

VICTORIA

photo2_cmst-cityatnight_030Victoria lures in visitors and productions alike with a variety of natural landscapes and a vivid metropolitan area that looks simply stunning on the big screen. It also has miles of beaches offering calm bays, clear-breaking surf and waves crashing against rugged sandstone cliffs. “Melbourne has a very European vibe to it,” says Producer Richard Wright (I, Frankenstein, The Lincoln Lawyer). “The terrain of the city is also very useful. You can often get what feels like a big cityscape without having to close down more than two or three blocks, which is very helpful. I have nothing but good things to say about our experience shooting here on location.” Recent productions in regional Victoria or the city of Melbourne include Killer Elite, Animal Kingdom, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Where the Wild Things Are, and postproduction digital and VFX work for the recent box-office hit Ted.

Melbourne remains one of Australia’s biggest attractions for international productions. Sought for its versatility and architectural diversity, the city’s prominent skyline features contemporary office towers and high-rise apartments as well as a rich fabric of art-deco and art-nouveau buildings and beautiful streets. “We had a particular need for deciduous trees to match the Northern United States,” says Producer Jordan Kerner (The Smurfs, Charlotte’s Web). “We found them all over the city and at various farm locations that were close by. In fact, we build the farm environment for Charlotte's Web about an hour from downtown.” Melbourne also offers a range of warehouses and buildings in several locations that can accommodate numerous film sets and crews. And, located within two miles of downtown Melbourne, Docklands Studios Melbourne is busy hosting big-budget projects, like Ghost Rider, Where the Wild Things Are and HBO/Steven Spielberg’s WWII miniseries “The Pacific.” It currently features five soundstages, production offices and workshop bays with work currently being undertaken to expand the facility to meet its increased demand.

Film Victoria offers financial perks similar to those in New South Wales to “footloose” international and national productions (negotiated on a project-by-project basis, all funds are available through a grant system in the form of a cash rebate). The city of Melbourne prides itself on being exceptionally cost effective with both the state government of Victoria and Australian federal government vigorously supporting the film and television industry through various financial incentives.

pre_australia_queensland_villageroadshowstudios_main-tank-photo-2-aerialQUEENSLAND

From its dramatic cityscapes of the Gold Coast and Brisbane to its disparate desert and beach vistas, Queensland offers plenty of choices to local and foreign productions. The serene beauty of the Great Barrier Reef (located offshore in the Coral Sea) is unlike any other place on earth. Composed of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the locale continually attracts tourists from all over the world. Stretching over 1,800 miles, the Gold Coast provides beautifully amazing imagery through a bevy of diverse locations — you’ll find rainforests, waterfalls, farmland, mountains and swamps, all roughly 45 minutes away from Brisbane.

Queensland has developed a number of production hubs with state-of-the-art facilities and highly professional, creative cast and crewmembers. About 20 minutes from the Gold Coast, Village Roadshow Studios offers eight sound stages, three water tanks, ten production offices, construction workshops, wardrobe and laundry facilities, lock-ups, screening rooms and editing facilities all very close to the area’s natural hot-spot filming locations. “The facility is unique with having such a diverse range of locations all within close proximity to the Studios,” says Village Roadshow Studios President Lynne Benzie. “We have unique locations within 35 minutes from the Studios, and we have doubled for the Asia Pacific region, Mexico, dense jungle, Kansas, Miami and the Bahamas.” The Studios’ stages vary in size (with an overall floor area of 116,727 square feet) and include a main outdoor water tank (12,915 square feet) that holds six million liters.

Screen Queensland provides production incentives and location scouting support to film and television productions that choose Queensland as a film destination. (Productions enquiring about incentives are encouraged to contact Screen Queensland to discuss their project.) And councils like the Gold Coast City Council and Cairns Local Council make Queensland very amenable to upcoming film and television projects. Through its Film Gold Coast initiative and investment attraction program, the Gold Coast City Council provides funding to productions filming across the city. This grant funding for screen projects is based on local spend. Queensland has served as the base for many ambitious productions, such as The Railway Man (starring Nicole Kidman), Iron Sky, Daybreakers, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and TV projects like “Terra Nova” and “The Pacific.”

With its dramatic beauty, distinctly charming locales, expert talent and flexible incentives, it’s no surprise that the land down under is now on top in the production arena. And as film and television projects continue to shoot in scenic Australia, audiences can expect to see nothing but cinematic perfection.
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